Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Feb. 4 for the Arkansas Catholic Men’s Conference in Little Rock.
The Gospel we have today is just perfect for a Catholic Men’s Conference. Jesus’ disciples return from the mission that he had sent them on two by two into all the neighboring villages and now it’s time for a little rest.
But then people just keep coming at them and Jesus from every direction with so many demands that they didn’t even have time to eat. So finally they head off to take some time for themselves, and lo and behold the people pursue them there. Despite his exhaustion, Jesus’ heart goes out to them. He swallows hard and sees what further he can do for them. They were like sheep without a shepherd.
I’m sure any of you who have raised children can identify with this feeling, especially those of you who still have little kids right now. So many demands and so hard to get a good night sleep.
One reason eucharistic adoration was so popular among young couples in a parish I served in Oklahoma was that this was just about the only hour of peace and quiet many of these couples got that entire week. It was a time for Jesus to recharge their batteries. It was a time for the Lord to give them insights about how best to parent the little lambs entrusted to their care. I recommend it to you!
So many children today are like sheep without a shepherd. They have parents who are absent emotionally and physically, more worried about career advancement or even just putting bread on the table, than they are about really taking care of the most important needs their sheep have. Of course, they want to do their best, but in the face of so many conflicting demands they get off track.
Parents told me that this hour spent with the Lord helped them keep their head on straight when people — including their own children — come at them with so many demands that they practically don’t even have time to go to the bathroom, much less eat.
As we begin this men’s conference, I invite you to ask yourself what kind of shepherd you are for the sheep entrusted to your care, be they your children, your wife, your elderly parents, your employees, anyone you are connected to. This message is for me too as your bishop, regarding my care of you, the flock that is this diocese and your priests in their care for your parish. Sheep need a shepherd to help guide them, provide for them and protect them:
n Sheep need a shepherd to guide them, to help them find their way. Otherwise they get lost. Today’s world is full of people who are lost in life, especially young people, but also older adults who have strayed from the path of what is right and good. Guiding your flock is one of your key responsibilities, as it is mine as your bishop.
n Sheep need a shepherd to provide for them, to help them find pasture so they will have something to eat. Providing for your flock means more than just being a good breadwinner, though that is important too.
But more important is that you feed your flock spiritually, nourishing their souls. Of course you have to nourish your own soul first, something I try to do every day. You can’t give what you don’t have.
n Sheep need a shepherd to protect them to defend them against the dangers that threaten them. This means keeping track of who their friends are and intervening when necessary. I remember a time when my Dad forbade me to associate with a particular kid who he knew was nothing but trouble. I resented this at the time because I couldn’t see the danger, but I obeyed and thank God I did.
Of course, we shepherds have to be alert to the dangers that threaten us too, not just our sheep. We’re not exempt either. If the shepherd himself is giving into temptations — say, pornography for instance — he’s going to be in a very poor position to take seriously enough the evils that threaten his flock. We all need to strive to grow in virtue, me as much as anyone else.
I pray that this men’s conference will be a blessing for all of you and through you for your families, the flock entrusted to your care.
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